[PD] CVs

Chris McCormick chris at mccormick.cx
Fri May 20 07:01:54 CEST 2011

On Thu, May 19, 2011 at 05:12:09PM +0200, Bryan Jurish wrote:
> If forty-two trees fall in a forest and no one is around to count them, __forty-two__ trees have still fallen.

I am not sure about that. To think is to model small chunks of the universe. Very small chunks, quite inaccurately. The thought itself, the model, exists in the physical universe, as part of a human brain. In the words of Carl Sagan, "we are a way for the Universe to know itself." These models work as long as reality concurs with them, e.g. as long as predictions made about the universe happen in reality too. That predictive power is maybe why we evolved intelligence, because of the advantage the ability to model and predict gives our genes to propagate. Of course, there is nothing to stop there being models of things that don't exist in the real universe, but those models still exist in the physical universe on the chemical and electrical substrate of somebody's physical brain. When you look at a Salvador Dali painting, where does it exist? I think it exists physically encoded on the chemical-electrical substrate of your brain. I don't think it exists outside of that. The painting itself exists as chemicals on canvas, but until someone looks at it, models it, computes it with their brain, the scene it depicts does not exist anywhere in physical reality. The physical painting is a zipfile containing a program that you run on the chemical computer inside your head.

So when 42 trees fall and there is someone to perceive them, what happens? A piece of the universe, chemicals and electricity inside the perceiver's physical head, models another part of the universe - what it calls the "42 trees falling". The model is informed by incoming data from the senses, but it is still a model. Part of that model is an encoding of the concept "42" into the brain chemistry. If there is no physical brain to model the concept of 42, then there is no 42. When the trees fall, something is happening on the space time manifold, but I don't think it's accurate to say without the computational aparatus to perceive it that "42 trees are falling".

It gets semantically complicated because sitting here writing/reading an email about 42 trees falling and someone perceiving [or lack thereof] that event, you have to model the whole thing - perceiver and trees - by default, and so you get fooled into thinking that model exists somewhere outside your head. It doesn't. This email is a zipfile containing the "42 trees falling with possible perceiver" program that you run inside your head when you read it and think about it. The 42 trees at that moment exist on the physical substrate of your own brain, but nowhere within the scene being modelled.

Well, that's my current rather crap and innaccurate model of reality anyway. It's crap but I think it's less wrong than yours, where there is some nebulous flying spaghetti monster called "42 trees" floating around outside of physical reality. ;)

Information, Matter, Energy - all just crude models for something we probably can't ever truly know.* Also, physicists probably have much better models.



* http://mccormick.cx/news/entries/inherent-limitations-of-a-computational-model-of-reality


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